When the late Madan Mohan Malaviya was honoured with ‘Bharat Ratna’ in 2014 December on the eve of his 153rd birth anniversary, many of the younger generation wondered, who was he? People from previous generations did remember him as the founder of iconic Banaras Hindu University (BHU) but hardly anything beyond this.
Madan Mohan Malaviya was a true jewel of Bharat – ‘Bharat Ratna’ - who worked tirelessly all his life for the independence of India, for education and in every possible arena of social life. He was, truly, a ‘multi-tasking’ leader.
Guiding theme of Government of India – ‘Satyameva Jayate’ (Truth alone will triumph) - from Mandukyopanishad is a legacy of Pandit Malaviya, who pronounced it as the guiding principle as the President of the Indian National Congress in its 1918 Delhi session. The honorific ‘Mahaamana’ was conferred upon him by Rabindranath Tagore.
Pandit Malaviya gave up his thriving legal practice on his 50th birthday to serve the nation when he was at peak of his career in 1911. Sir Mirza Ismail noted that if Malaviya had so willed it, he would have been an ornament to the legal profession.
Malaviya came out of his retirement for his last case in 1924 to defend people involved in the violent Chauri Chaura incident in 1922. This incident caused Mahatma Gandhi to call off the Non-cooperation movement. The Sessions Court had pronounced death sentence to 170 persons. In the Allahabad High Court, Pandit Malaviya saved 155 people from the gallows. Remaining 15 were recommended for clemency and their sentences reduced from death to life imprisonment. The Chief Justice Grimwood Mears was so impressed with the brilliance of his arguments that he bowed thrice to him during arguments.
Infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre was only the beginning. British let loose their unspeakable tyranny on the ordinary citizens across Punjab in the most ruthless manner. Pandit Malaviya fought for the rights of citizens of Punjab on all forums available to him. He was the moving spirit behind Jallianwala Bagh Memorial. He was Chairman of the committee and went all the way to Mumbai to collect funds for it.
A great scholar himself, he led not just in politics but also in the social and religious arena. He founded the Ganga Mahasabha in Hardwar in 1905 and started the much celebrated Ganga Arati on the Har ki Paudi ghat, still the star attraction for visitors to Hardwar. He fought for a proper flow of Holy River Ganga in Hardwar. Aviral Ganga Raksha Samjhuata was signed with British in 1916.
He was Chairman of the Sanatan Dharma Sammelan during the Kumbh Mela in 1918. He also conducted a Sadhu Sammelan during this period. He managed to persuade the British to relax train services that were curtailed due to the World War efforts.
Malaviya was one of the founders of Scouting in India. Later inspired by this, he began another organisation in 1913, called All India Seva Samiti. As the President of Seva Samiti, he presented a set of clothes to a number of sweepers at Kumbh Mela as a mark of respect.
The revival of Sanatan Dharma was not far from his mind. He found that the Indian calendar had developed certain problems. He established a team of Jyotish scholars that he headed himself to fix the problems. He even held two conferences of Jyotishis that he presided over. He also helped organise and headed conferences on Ayurveda. Panditji established Sant Hasanand Gauchar Bhoomi In Vrindavan for the welfare of cows.
Pandit Malaviya founded Harijan Sevak Sangh and as its President worked for the eradication of untouchability. He gave Mantra Diksha to so-called untouchables so their acceptability would be easier and they would rise in the social hierarchy. One cannot forget his role in persuading temple priests to give ‘diksha’ to 200 Dalit people on Satyagrah to enter the famous Kalaram Temple in Nasik in 1936.
It is a tribute to his organisational acumen that this organisation is also working today like most of his ventures.
It is interesting to note that Pt Malaviya was also deeply involved in journalism. His career started in 1887 as the editor of Hindi daily ‘Hindusthan’ and went on to edit ‘Indian Opinion’ before he started his own Hindi weekly Abhyuday. He wrote poems under the pseudonym ‘Makrand’. He fought against British for Press Freedom way back in 1908. He started English daily the ‘Leader’ in 1909 and was associated with a number of newspapers and journals. He raised Rs. 50,000 to acquire the Hindustan Times with the help of famous industrialist and philanthropist Ghanshyam Das Birla to save it from an untimely closure. In 1933, Malaviya started Sanatana Dharma from BHU, a magazine dedicated to religious, and dharmic studies.
Malaviya was President of the Indian National Congress in 1909 and 1918. He opposed the separate electorates for Muslims under the Lucknow Pact of 1916. He was elected President again in 1933.
He was a member of the Imperial Legislative Council from 1912 and when it was converted to Central Legislative Assembly in 1919 he was there till 1926 when he resigned as per Congress Party decision. Malaviya participated actively in the Non-cooperation movement and led from the front. As a Congress President, he introduced a resolution to abolish the emigration of Indians under system indentured labour.
In 1928 he joined Lala Lajpat Rai and many others in protesting against the Simon Commission, which had been set up by the British to consider India's future. Just as the “Buy British” campaign was sweeping England, he issued, on 30 May 1932, a manifesto urging concentration on the “Buy Indian” movement in India. Malaviya was a delegate to the Second Round Table Conference in 1931.
Though, a staunch Hindu nationalist, he always strived for Hindu-Muslim unity. Two of his speeches, in 1922 and other in 1931 are famous for his views on the subject. His Presidential speech in Congress session in 1933 is quoted even now. However, he was opposed to the politics of appeasement and the participation of Congress in the Khilafat movement.
Annie Besant and Malaviya met in 1911 and decided to work for a Hindu University at Varanasi. Spread over 16.5 square km and a student population of about 35000, BHU, the largest residential university in Asia, came into being in 1916. When Mahatma Gandhi asked him about the need for the hostels, he said, “I hope the students would be inspired to build such castles for people when they grew up.”
He called himself a beggar. He travelled a lot to collect donations for various projects. In one of the famous episodes of his readiness to go to any extent to get resources, he declared that he will auction his chappals when he was denied funding for Hindu University by the Nizam. Ultimately, the Nizam bid for his chappals for a huge price.
He encouraged research in Ayurveda and had a deep belief in its efficacy. But, he was not against Allopathic. He nurtured herbal medicinal garden in the lawns of his house in BHU. To show the strength of Ayurveda, he voluntarily underwent ‘kalaykalp’ treatment, a very tough process for rejuvenation, at the age of 77.
He used to tell students to exercise, pray, study diligently to have their desires fulfilled. About his University, he noted, “Dawn of a new era of industrial development is here. It is the duty of Hindu University to prepare young men for it by educating them in all the applied forms science and knowledge that will be most useful to them.”
Though an advocate of Sanskrit and Hindi, he didn’t wish to impose vernacular medium studies till suitable textbooks are made, though he felt it was desirable in his University. He was a modernist to the core and didn’t believe in propagating unsound information of Puranas and other Hindu sources without scientific backing.
He was signatory to Poona Pact was signed between Dr. Ambedkar and Gandhi. The agreement gave reserved seats for the depressed classes in the Provisional legislatures, within the general electorate and not by creating a separate electorate. In protest of the Communal Award which sought to provide separate electorates for Muslims, Malaviya along with Madhav Shrihari Aney left the Congress in 1934 and started the Congress Nationalist Party. He was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha. He was a president of the special session of Hindu Mahasabha in Gaya in 1922 and in Kashi in 1923.
Mahaamana Malaviya had a soft corner for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. He kept a sympathetic eye on its work in the BHU. When he met Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar in the campus once, he asked him how he could help RSS. In half jest, he noted that he was good at collecting funds and help RSS in this matter. But, Guruji politely told him that they needed only his blessings. He donated a piece of land within BHU campus to RSS for its office. Incidentally, it was demolished overnight and totally flattened by overzealous VC Shrimali in one night during Emergency in 1975.
For a life that completed 84 fruitful years, limited space of an article is not enough. But, you can sense the breathless pace at which Mahaamana lived his life contributing all his energy for the good of this nation. He was, truly, a Bharat Ratna.